Home, law ministries bicker over anti-rape bill

Legal eagles object having the word rape instead of sexual assault

 The Union Home Ministry-piloted criminal law (amendment) draft bill has courted objections from government legal eagles who have reservations over having the word “rape” instead of “sexual assault” to define the crime against women.

The Union Cabinet at its meeting held on Thursday was supposed to clear the draft bill to replace the existing ordinance but differences between the home and law ministries on the contentious points – which also includes the former’s suggestion to lower the age of consent to have sex from 18 years to 16 years – has delayed the legislation being tabled in Parliament.

What ticked off the Law Ministry was the Home Ministry’s note proposing reintroduction of the word “rape” in the draft bill as it was not there in the ordinance, said government sources. Even Justice Verma committee, constituted to suggest changes in the law to make them more effective in tackling sexual offences, was of the view that the definition should not be tweaked to make sexual offence gender-neutral.

The UPA government, however, claims that they will introduce the bill in the ongoing Budget Session as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had committed before the start of the session.

 “We are committed to passing the anti-rape ordinance in the Parliament by March 22 under any circumstances... there will be a special cabinet meeting (for the purpose) shortly,” Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath told reporters.

The ministry might convene a meeting of all stake holders to thrash out the differences of opinion on the subject.

The Home Ministry officials were against making the offence gender-neutral after getting feedback from Law, Women and Child Welfare Ministry and NGOs on the ordinance which used the word “sexual assault”. To make the provision gender-specific it was also decided to make the law more stringent for ensuring safety of women in the country, sources said. But, the Law Ministry is of the view that the amended law should be comprehensive to handle all forms of sexual crime.

On lowering the age of consent for having sex, the Law Ministry feels it should be lowered to 15 years, while the civil society favoured the Verma panel recommendations which has been incorporated in the draft bill – which is to lower it to 16 years.

Sex with minor whether with consent is construed as rape as per the Indian Penal Code.

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